How politics is practiced in Ontario
Martin Regg Cohn devoted his column yesterday in the Toronto Star to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board. Specifically he drew attention to the recent release of a study commissioned by the provincial government that reported an unfunded liability of $14.1 billion. The liability itself and how it came to pass is worth attention but so is the government's handling of the report.
Instead of the usual wide release of the 188-page study, a mere handful of copies were distributed just before weekend deadlines — with the executive summary conspicuously absent. Coming so late in the day, the long-awaited report went largely unnoticed.
How convenient for Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey.
The study deserved better than to be discarded by Jeffrey like a radioactive isotope. The report’s findings speak volumes about the way public affairs are managed. The way it was dumped by her office shows how politics is practiced in Ontario.
The McGuinty government might be able to explain away the timing or the short distribution list. But pulling the executive summary indicates a conscious effort to try and slide something by. A decision was made to try and discourage people from discovering the study's conclusions for themselves.
Since I began reviewing the news and posting the daily link dumps here last August, I've become much more aware of the way our provincial government conducts business on a routine basis (which was partly the point). If what Regg Cohn describes was an aberration I'd be less inclined to take the time to post this but it's not. He's right. Much of the time this is the way politics is practiced in Ontario.
The McGuinty Liberals seem willing to politicize everything that moves and most things that don't. They govern with one eye on the polls and the first question they seem to ask of any development or policy initiative is: how will this fit into the story we intend to spin during the next election campaign. If something doesn't fit nicely into that narrative then it needs to be buried in a Friday afternoon news dump or dropped into a 300 page budget bill in the hopes an unpopular policy can be pushed through without garnering too much attention.
Certainly McGuinty and company aren't alone in this. The federal Conservatives have quickly become the acknowledged masters of gaming the system and showing contempt for democracy. But the provincial Liberals have shown a willingness to give Harper and his crew a pretty good run for their money in some ways. At both levels of government it's beginning to look more and more as if the occasional example of genuinely good governance is more by accident than by design.
If you spend much time here you're going to see me say this on a regular basis: serious electoral reform can't come soon enough.
Note: edited to add some minor qualification in the second last paragraph. There are some ways in which the federal Conservatives stand alone. Like the ripest of cheeses.